Victory by an innings and 85 runs, with more than two days to spare, brought England level in this three-match series at 1-1, following South Africa almost as dominant innings-and-12-run triumph at Lord’s last week.
England have won five of their six matches since Stokes succeeded Joe Root as skipper but this one was built on Test-match fundamentals rather than setting up a crowd-pleasing run-chase in the fourth innings.
Stokes’s men were on top from the start in Manchester, reducing South Africa to 77-5 before lunch on the first day after Proteas skipper Dean Elgar — almost obliged to bat first having included a second spinner, Simon Harmer, — won the toss.
The Proteas were eventually dismissed for a meagre 151 in their first innings.
England then made 415-9 declared featuring all-rounder Stokes’s 103 — his first Test century as England captain — and wicketkeeper Ben Foakes’s Test-best 113 not out.
A stubborn 43-over stand of 87 between Keegan Petersen and Rassie van der Dussen kept England at bay on Saturday until Stokes, in one of the match-turning bowling displays that have been a hallmark of his career, removed both batsmen after tea.
That paved the way for another collapse. South Africa slumped to 179 all out after succumbing to the new-ball thrust of James Anderson and Ollie Robinson as their last five wickets fell for just seven runs in 31 balls.
England have made much of their desire to play “positively” but in Manchester they also demonstrated plenty of cricket intelligence as well as attacking intent.
All 🔟 wickets after a brilliant showing from our bowlers! 👏 🏴 #ENGvSA 🇿🇦 https://t.co/81wIbpOlKe
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) 1661626970000
“Cricket is about how you bat, bowl and field and I think that the way we batted, bowled and fielded this whole game is the benchmark of the standards we’ve set,” Stokes told reporters.
“It didn’t feel like a wicket where you could stand there and hit through the line because of the variable bounce that it was offering.”
Bowling as a fourth seamer, which Stokes was at Old Trafford, can be something of a supporting role, but not in his eyes.
“When you are bowling with the older ball, when nothing is really happening, you have to create your own energies and own theatre around that,” he said.
Some decent match figures 😳Highlights: https://t.co/bLHg397VGJ🏴 #ENGvSA 🇿🇦 https://t.co/VNpAgVb5Gn
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) 1661623194000
Stokes also signalled his admiration for Anderson who, at the age of 40, when most fast bowlers are long since retired, returned match figures of 6-62 on his Lancashire home ground to surpass Australia’s Glenn McGrath as the most successful paceman across all international formats with an ongoing tally of 951 wickets.
“He’s a testament to himself and a great ambassador for the game,” said Stokes. “I said before this game started that I honestly can’t see when he’s going to stop.”
South Africa came into this match top of the World Test Championship table in spite of, rather than because of, the runs made by their batsmen and Elgar said they had simply had to more to support an undoubtedly world-class pace attack ahead of the series decider at the Oval in a fortnight.
“The bottom line is we need runs from the middle order, and at the moment that is letting us down quite a bit,” Elgar said
But the opening batsman added: “Sometimes you can go into panic mode when things like this happen. Myself and the coach (Mark Boucher) are definitely not those kinds of guys to panic. We know we’re still a good side.”